Gun control bill clears its first hurdle in Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress' most serious gun-control effort in years cleared its first hurdle Thursday as the Senate pushed past conservatives' attempted blockade under the teary gaze of families of victims of December's Connecticut school shootings.

The bipartisan 68-31 vote rebuffed an effort to keep debate from even starting, giving an early victory — and perhaps political momentum — to President Barack Obama and his gun control allies. Four months after 20 first-graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown were killed, relatives watching the vote from a gallery overlooking the Senate floor dabbed at tears and clasped hands, some seeming to pray.

Even so, few supporters of the legislation are confident of victory. Several weeks of emotional, unpredictable Senate debate lie ahead, and a mix of gun-rights amendments, opposition from the National Rifle Association and skepticism from House Republican leaders leave big questions about what will emerge from Congress. Foes of the proposed new restrictions say they would penalize law-abiding citizens and do nothing to curb gun violence.

"The hard work starts now," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who brought the legislation to the floor for debate.

Still, in a Congress marked by a notable lack of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, Thursday's vote was one of several displays of unusual rapport across party lines. In other examples not connected to the issue of guns:

—Negotiators for the two parties said they had reached agreement on the major elements of a Senate immigration bill they're expected to unveil next week.

—The top Republican in government, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, publicly disagreed with his party campaign chairman's criticism of Obama's budget proposal to trim future Social Security and Medicare benefits. Wednesday night, GOP senators left a White House dinner praising Obama for reaching out to them on his budget.

—Senators of both parties had a rare joint luncheon to honor Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, on the 40th anniversary of his release from a North Vietnamese prison.

Hoping to bring pressure on Congress to act on gun control, supporters of new restrictions have been demonstrating in Washington. They have erected a mock graveyard with thousands of crosses on the National Mall, symbolizing victims of gun violence.

The Senate's firearms bill would subject nearly all gun buyers to background checks, add muscle to federal laws barring illicit firearm sales and provide slightly more money for school safety measures.

Excluded and facing near-certain defeat in upcoming votes were proposals to ban military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines — factors in the Newtown killings some other recent mass shootings. But keeping those provisions out of the current legislation did not mollify critics.

Opponents said the remaining proposals were unwarranted intrusions on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, would be ignored by criminals and would do little to prevent future Newtowns. Obama's plans have received scant support from Republicans and many moderate Democrats, with many saying they prefer improvements in dealing with the mentally ill and stronger enforcement of existing laws.

"I'm not interested in a symbolic gesture which would offer the families of the Sandy Hook shootings no real solutions that they seek," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate's No. 2 Republican.

Congress hasn't approved major gun restrictions since enacting an assault weapons ban 19 years ago, a prohibition that lawmakers let lapse after a decade.

Some potential amendments could broaden gun rights and weaken supporters' backing for the overall bill.

One proposal is by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who say it would improve how the federal background check system blocks weapons from going to people with certain mental problems, though critics say it would make it harder in some cases to do so. Another possible amendment would require states to recognize permits for carrying concealed weapons issued by other states.

In Thursday's vote, 50 Democrats and 2 Democratic-leaning independents were joined by 16 Republicans in voting to begin debate on the legislation. Twenty-nine Republicans and two Democrats facing re-election next year in GOP-leaning states voted "no" — Alaska's Begich and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

After the roll call, Obama spoke by phone with some Newtown families and said he would "keep fighting for the votes they deserve," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

The Senate plans to debate an amendment Tuesday expanding background checks less broadly than the overall legislation would. Broadening the system to cover more transactions is the heart of the current effort on guns.

That amendment, a compromise between Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., would subject buyers in commercial settings like gun shows and the Internet to the checks but exempt non-commercial transactions like sales between friends and relatives.

That accord, unveiled Wednesday, was designed to build bipartisan support for the legislation and seemed likely to do so. Toomey and Manchin are among the most conservative members of their parties and are both gun owners with NRA ratings of "A."

Toomey said Thursday he believes supporters of his compromise with Manchin would be able to beat back any filibuster attempt.

"Beyond that, I just don't know yet," he said on "CBS This Morning."

Gun-control groups have embraced the Manchin-Toomey compromise with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and they continued to applaud it on Thursday — while also expressing concerns about some provisions.

Besides the exemption for private sales, gun control advocates expressed displeasure with language letting gun dealers sell handguns to out-of-state customers, exempting some holders of permits for concealed weapons from background checks and shielding individuals who sell guns from some negligence lawsuits.

"We are optimistic that this bill will make a dramatic difference in reducing gun violence," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

The NRA said it opposed the Manchin-Toomey compromise and warned senators that it would count votes on provisions it opposes in its evaluation of candidates that it provides its members, who the organization says number nearly 5 million.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.



KRIS KUCERA's picture

The NRA represents gun manufacturers, not responsible gun owners

Why is it that we willingly turned our world upside-down with security measures after 9/11, where 3,000 were innocents were killed, including my best friend from my Binghamton, NY, neighborhood growing up, Brian Terrenzi; yet we've done NOTHING to curb gun sales and violence when guns are used to kill tens of thousands of Americans each and every year?!?

Even poor Binghamton, which is just a bigger version of L-A (both are former mill towns that lost their jobs to foreign lands thanks in large part to the Reagan Revolution), had a mass shooting just a few years ago, with 13 innocents mercilessly gunned down.

Is there ever a point where we, as a nation, say enough is enough?

I might add that it was too bad Dick Cheney didn't shoot Wayne LaPierre in the face, that death merchant.

Noel Foss's picture

You do realize

That the story you cited is an opinion piece, with very little in the way of facts backing it up? For example, the author states that
"...the background check system will shut off sales to criminals and the mentally ill who are effectively free to buy all the guns they want at gun shows and through private transactions."
When in fact there's been several studies proving that the opposite is true about gun shows; that there's hardly and abundance of criminals sourcing their guns from gun shows. (Most research puts it at around 1-2%).

Bob Berry's picture

Emotion does not trump logic

Show me any proposed gun control measure that would have prevented 911 or Sandy Hook. Show me that a gun is useless at defending myself, my family, and my country. Show me where those gun shootings are occurring and superimpose where the strictest gun control is, and tell me what that tells you. Show me why making my family more vulnerable to law-breakers is worth making you feel better.

KRIS KUCERA's picture

Logic my [spincter]

First off, gun laws that might've prevented 9/11? Huh? Would you like to compare and contrast Jesus and Spiderman too?

How does registering your guns keep you from protecting your family? You register (and pay insurance, take a driver's test, etc.) your car. But guns are so sacred in a Freudian orgasmic way that they are beyond reproach?

There are 300 million firearms in this country. That's why we have so many gun murders. People get mad, guns are ubiquitous, too many people get shot. Duh. Other countries have crazy mofos too -- they just can't easily get their hands on guns. Are you getting all this or should I type slower?

Statistically, guns, especially handguns (which also cause 82% of all gun-related homicides), in the home pose more dangers to the homeowner and the home's occupants than homes without guns. There's a greater chance of a gun being used in a domestic dispute, or by tormented young men who have access to guns that kill themselves or others, as in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Columbine, (insert myriad mass shootings here), than a gun being used to defend one's property, which, incidentally, I am all for.

I'm not out to take your gun away from you presuming you're not a loon. (Your spurious argument does make me wonder, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.) Heck, I own a Sears and Roebuck 12-gauge. But what's the fear in having us both register our firearms, and prove that we're trained in firearm safety? Let me guess, it's because you're afraid that your own government -- which includes our own military (wrap yourself in a flag here) -- is going to come and take them away from you? I can't help you with that sort of paranoid delusion, man. Unless of course you are, in fact, a loon, holed up in your fortified bunker eating canned Vienna sausages while blogging. But again, I'm sure you're a fine guy to watch a NASCAR race with. (Can we check on The Masters during commercials?)

And if the 2nd Amendment is "infallible," along with the Constitution as a whole (what exactly is "blood libel"?), how do we explain Section 2, Article 1? (Which was amended, by the way.) Times change, but ignorance persists like a cancer.

You're right, though. We should do nothing, arm everyone, go Mad Max, and just let daily shootings be the norm -- which it pretty much already is anyway. How silly of me to want to do something. I'm off to polish my holy firearm as penance to the Church of the NRA.

Bob Berry's picture

Sarcasm is ugly

Your sense of sarcasm is truly profound. Thank you for showing how ugly it can be.

Why do firearms need to be registered? Why is it your business? Why is it the governments? (Go ahead, call me a loon because I'm careful of power being wielded.) Is registration a means to track criminals? How are they doing tracking the 10 to 20 million illegals in our country? Is registration a means of the government tracking who has guns? Yep. And I say that is not their business. Someone who wants bigger and more government would disagree, which I think you do. So be it. We will not see eye to eye on that.

More guns equals more gun crimes, I think is the crux of your 3rd paragraph. Agreed. Why use a knife when a gun is to be had? But the ratio of guns in the hands of criminals vs. guns in the hands of legal citizens is more telling. Most of the gun crimes happen in places with strict gun control. In those areas, criminals have the guns, victims do not, so there is a power imbalance.

Your argument ignores the alternative. If there were fewer guns, there would be fewer gun crimes, but there would be more knife crimes. Ban knives, there would be more baseball bat crimes. I don't want to see an 80 lb woman defending herself from a 200 lb man with a kitchen knife. When the revolver was first patented, they called it the great equalizer. That still holds true today.

Your statement that guns in the home make you more likely to be a gun violence victim is inane. Homes with toasters are more likely to experience toaster accidents, too. Again, take away the guns, replace that with baseball bats, and it'll turn out that homes with baseball bats are more likely to have baseball bat violence. More telling is the statistics on how often a gun is used in a violent crime versus how often a gun is used to defend oneself. Most of the liberal statistics skew the # by showing only when a gun is used to defend oneself by actually shooting and actually killing someone. If you count the threat of gun force, there are some 2 million defenses with a firearm each year, dwarfing the criminal's number.

Regarding the government coming to take guns away, well I don't know the future. Neither do you, I suspect. Paranoid delusions is a clinical (though you meant it as an insult) phrase for fearing what is not there. Historically and globally, there is nothing delusional about disarmament. It has happened many times and in many places in this earth's history. I hope it never happens here. But I find it a valid reason to avoid registration.

The constitution can be amended. The courts have affirmed (erroneously, in my opinion) that the bill of rights can be regulated. That does not mean that they lack value or should not be protected. The 2nd Amendment protects all the other amendments and the constitution itself. I find value in that.

And if you want to do something about gun violence, even the playing field. Explain to me how propagating the imbalance of power will reduce violent crime (not just gun crime, but all crime). Some folks think that without a gun, a criminal will get an honest job and stop being a criminal... do you?

KRIS KUCERA's picture


Just one of the quality services I supply.

So if not for guns, 30,000 people would be killed each year in baseball bat attacks? Would there be a slugging percentage?

Do you prefer ash or maple bats? Probably maple, as they splinter sharply, thus you could also stab people with them. American industriousness defined.

Happy Friday, disagreements or not.

Bob Berry's picture


Okay, suddenly I like you. Huh.

Baseball bats, knives, brass knuckles, rebar, tire irons, shovels, fists, and liberal arguments. :)

Happy Friday indeed, though I'm now a bit confused about the season.

Noel Foss's picture

Being limited to bats would give a whole new meaning

to "Season Opener"

KRIS KUCERA's picture

If . . .

. . . Justices Scalia and Ginsberg can break bread together, you and I can have a spirited political debate without actually getting genuinely mad at one another. This country won't get anywhere without both sides actually listening to each other and then doing the unthinkable: Compromise.

What a lovely spring we're not having. . . . (I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.)

Bob Berry's picture

At risk of restarting the argument...

It has been my observation that many conservatives have been steadfastly trying to protect what I think makes this country great. Liberals, on the other hand, mean well and try to make changes, often due to emotional stimuli. (that is not to say conservatives are not emotional...pissed off is most definitely an emotion)

When an object resists moving and a force wants it to move a distance x, a 'compromise' is just a lessening of the force and still results in a move that is some part of x. Then the object ends up compromising again and again and again, until it has moved the full distance x and wonders how in all that is holy and good it got there. After all, it was only being reasonable.

Apologies for a physics analogy. One of the hazards of being a nerd. Put another way, 'compromise' means watering down immutable principles and achieving a goal over a longer period of time. Liberals often talk of compromise as a solution, know that in a few years we'll compromise again. Then again. Then again.

What you're seeing now- the so-called division in America- is conservatives saying, "Not Again."


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...